Picture: KATERYNA KOM/123RF
Picture: KATERYNA KOM/123RF

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to hit SA, the department of public works says it will have to fork out close to R28.6m to private properties such as hotels to use them as quarantine sites.

The bill was initially meant to be settled by the department of health. However, department of public works director-general Sam Vukela told MPs on Monday that his health counterparts had indicated that they do not have the funds.

“We also did not have a budget for this,” he said.

However, after talks with the Treasury, it was agreed that the department of public works should settle the bill, which will be reimbursed after the readjustment budget is finalised in the coming weeks as the government moves to reallocate funds to respond to the health crisis.

Private and state-owned facilities have been earmarked as quarantine facilities in the government’s battle to contain the spread of the highly contagious and potentially deadly novel coronavirus. So far the virus has infected close to 6,783 people and killed 131.

On March 30, 4,427 people were under quarantine in both state and private facilities that have a total of 24,101 beds.

Public works officials told MPs that 318 state and private facilities across the country have been identified for quarantine purposes. However, only 66 state facilities and 32 in the private sector, including four-star hotels at a cost of R1,200 per person per day, are now being used.

The costs cover breakfast, lunch and dinner for up to 14 days. A total of 2,125 people have been quarantined in various hotels across the country so far. The rates were negotiated by Treasury and department of tourism officials.  

ACDP MP Wayne Thring asked why the department is not focusing on upgrading state-owned facilities for quarantine purposes instead of pumping money into the private sector.  Vukela said the department is still working on state facilities but some of these need to be refurbished before being made available.

On the R37m fence at the Beitbridge border between SA and Zimbabwe, public works minister Patricia de Lille told MPs that she has asked the auditor-general to look into the matter. The fence was built as part of the government’s efforts to seal SA’s borders and curb the disease.

In April, De Lille defended the decision to spend millions after images emerged on social media showing that the barbed-wire fence had been cut. She said it was incorrect to say the fence was not providing value for money.

 “As is widely known, the border fence line has also been subject to criminal activities which have resulted in the procurement of additional security personnel and the deployment of defence force officials to provide additional security support. To date there have been no formal arrests,” she said when the fence was vandalised.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za